the challenge of beauty

Sometimes the things we wrestle with in interceding for the world are not at all what people expect. It is not always the pain of the issues we deal with so deeply that presents the most un-nerving experiences. Last month we shared our journey with the problem of answered prayer. This month, we want to share a similar challenge related to beauty.

the challenge of beauty

Many who question the existence of a good God raise the question of suffering. And many of us who believe and worship this good God face this question repeatedly too.

We have too. As we pray and walk out our faith suffering is there all the time – in our own hearts as well as our headlines.

But sometimes beauty can be as much of a challenge. The beauty of God. And the beauty that is only seen as he works good from, or in the midst of, desperate suffering…

We had an uncomfortable time in morning worship on  30 April… the element of God’s character in focus that day was beautiful. It’s not that we didn’t wholly agree with this description. And it’s not that we don’t believe that he brings ‘beauty from ashes’ (Isaiah 61).

It’s just this was a harder characteristic than comforter, restorer or anything seemingly more ‘spiritual’ and simultanesouly somehow more ‘practically useful’ to hold up next to the day’s headlines.

To be honest, it felt weak alongside the trauma of an update on the collapse of the factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh from the week before. And the week of Living Below the Line that we were in – and the focus on the 1.4 billion people living on less than £1 a day.

Something about it jarred. How could we hold this up as our inspiration and our hope next to such suffering?

As we wrestled this out with scripture and discussion as well as prayer, one of our regular pray-ers challenged us that perhaps we had too small a revelation of God’s beauty.

We agreed.

Similar to God’s peace – his shalom – not being the absence of conflict, but the presence of a deep wholeness and well-being; or his holiness – his glory – not being the absence of sin, but the presence of absolute good and truth… it struck us to a new level that God’s beauty isn’t a surface level thing.

It is an awe-inspiring, deep wonder which is sometimes demonstrated most powerfully in the darkest places…

She reminded us of the Friday morning worship time we had shared some ten days before, when we had heard an extract from a speech by Mother Theresa as part of a back to basics style focus on what it means to love God and love others.

In it was much of indescribable beauty – deep love that was all the more resonant from the place of hunger and poverty it spoke from.

In particular we remembered the story of a woman with eight children who didn’t have anything to eat. She was brought rice for them, but immediately took half of it away – for her neighbours’ children who were also in need.

And even out of the rubble of that unspeakable tragedy in Dhaka, some signs of justice are beginning to grow as companies, consumers and even international trade negotiators are questioned and provoked. As much by the beauty of a late-in-the-day discovery of a woman when no one thought any more could survive who shone a light on the inifinte worth of a single life… as by the tragedy of those who were lost.

The challenge of beauty paid us another visit this Friday (24 May).

On the way in, two of us were again discussing beauty out of ashes,  remarking on the incredible carpet of discarded cherry blossom petals that were all over the grass and pavements which were creating a new beauty even as we walked in to the Sanctuary.

We were focusing on ‘peacemakers’ in that morning, and in our opening time of sung worship,  we had reached Forever reign when the most beautiful thing happened.

Behind the projection screen, our large shop-front window looked out at the usual scene… the A65 on a busy morning, full of traffic alternatively whizzing past, or paused for a moment at the pedestrian crossing.

And then, there was a strong, circling wind, and behind the screen was a new beauty – as the discarded remnants of yesterday’s bloom were swept up into a sudden, vivid dance that looked like an intensely whirling snow globe newly shaken.

We had no choice but to pause, reflect and give thanks for this picture of beauty and renewal.

Three of us present had been there on Tuesday morning, where we had prayed in depth of Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Bagdhad, and his church St George’s – in the wake of more violence in Iraq half-buried in the headlines and deeply concerned updates straight from the heart and in to our inboxes from Andrew himself.

This was the peacemaking on our minds as we sang those words, watched that blossom, and reflected again that the Christ light shines more strongly and beautifully through their witness there, than it does here, where there is less suffering.

Our God is a God who can and does take what was beautiful but has been discarded or crushed, and breathes his transforming Spirit on to it until it reflects him in a differently, but somehow, even more profoundly beautiful way.

This is the challenge of beauty. A challenge that we struggle to accept and pray into. That through suffering – and even only partial resurrection – Christ’s beauty is revealed still more…

We cannot celebrate suffering. Such a response would be an insult to the heart of God…

And yet – his heart is as full of suffering as it is joy when it looks on our world.

He mourns for the way we destroy the goodness he creates and recreates – and he keeps on redeeming, bringing beauty and yet more beauty from the ashes we leave in our wake.

To worship him means we begin  to mirror his heart – where beauty and brokenness are – at least for now – held together.

Yes, beauty is a challenge.

But it is an entirely fitting weapon for the spiritual battle of pray-ers and Christ-followers intent on building – and rebuilding again and again – the kingdom of hope.

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